Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teaching Day

Screening "The Forbin Project" (which I adore) in the City today and assigning a cold reading in light of last week's readings on Singularity. We may get to Hayles' "Norbert Wiener and Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled" and Lanier's "Half A Manifesto" today, but I will probably reserve them for next week's lecture on The California Ideology and the Digirati, with which they are an especially congenial fit on the theme of key US class-settings for techno-fetishistic ideology.


jimf said...

> . . ."The Forbin Project" (which I adore). . .

Well, I hope you appreciated Marion Ross's understated humor
as "Miss Fields". ;->

Hey, an old article I posted on the Extropians' many years
ago is still on the Web.
At the Colossus Programming Office, Forbin (played by Eric Braeden, probably
best known for his role in a daytime TV soap opera) strides around
magisterially, issuing commands like the Andre Previn of the control
room, while Miss Fields (Marion Ross, later the Mrs. Cunningham
of TV's _Happy Days_) scurries to bang them out on an IBM Selectric
console. . .

Marion Ross as Miss (Angela) Fields provides some nicely understated
humor during the course of the movie. Two moments stand out -- in her
first and only bid to participate in a more meaningful way than
answering the telephone and echoing Forbin's dictated
commands to the computer on the Selectric, Miss Fields
makes an attempt to choose a diagnostic program for Colossus,
but gets shot down by the boss:

FORBIN (heading toward desk): Miss Fields.

FIELDS (carrying binder):
May I suggest, sir, that we first start with the E-15B test program.

FORBIN (taking seat): Uhh... no.

FIELDS: Having just propped the binder in front
of Forbin and indicated her choice with the eraser end
of a pencil, she lowers the pencil sharply, straightens
up, sighs, purses her lips, and looks most deliciously

FORBIN (grasping the bridge of his nose): No, let us run
the, uhh... EC-13, all right? It's two pages back.

The second delightful moment involving Miss Fields comes
when Colossus has put Forbin under surveillance by ordering
microphones and video cameras installed in his quarters (and
everywhere else in the interior and exterior vicinity of the
CPO). Miss Fields, acting on Colossus' orders, shows up at the
door of Forbin's quarters while he is still in his

FIELDS (carrying clipboard): Good morning, sir.

FORBIN: Oh, Miss Fields. Uh....

FIELDS: I'm sorry to disturb you...

FORBIN: Well, what is it?

FIELDS: Well, while you were...

FORBIN: Please, come in. Come in.

FIELDS (glancing up at Colossus' camera): Thank you.
While you were sleeping, Colossus sent your schedule for

FORBIN: Excuse me, Miss Fields. My what?

FIELDS (suppressing a smile, clearly enjoying the moment):
Your schedule, for the day. You want me to read it to you?

FORBIN: What... what time is it?

FIELDS (glancing again at the camera): Six.

FORBIN: Six o'clock?

FIELDS (reading from clipboard): Dr. Charles A. Forbin --
Schedule For Today. 0700 to 0800, exercise. 0815 to 0830, shower
and dress. 0830 to 0900, breakfast: half a grapefruit,
two eggs, three strips of bacon, two pieces of toast, one and
one half ounces of grape jelly and coffee. 0900 to 1300, begin
work creating a voice for Colossus to its exact specifications.

Marion Ross' delivery of all this is subtle comedy, particularly
her rendering of the line "You want me to read it to you?".

jimf said...

Oh, and don't miss Eliezer Yudkowsky's reaction to
the movie, in the same ancient Extropians' thread.

jimf said...

> Oh, and don't miss Eliezer Yudkowsky's reaction to
> the movie, in the same ancient Extropians' thread.
> ;->
Leaving aside such MST3K-type material as watching a punched-tape computer
depicted as an AI (roughly equivalent to seeing a propeller airplane
flying through space),. . .
> . . .. . . what [Jaron] Lanier calls the Cybernetic Totalist
> ideology of many coders. . .

And it's an old ideology -- at least 60 years old, something the
almost-twenty and recently-twenty White and Nerdy guys who
most fervently embrace the on-line >H and Singularitarian
communities may not realize. It's as old as the digital computer
itself, and was hatched among the folks who (quite usefully, if not
in quite the way they imagined at the time) brought the
digital computer into existence.

Marvin Minsky at MIT and his pal SF author Arthur C. Clarke
were **steeped** in this quasi-religion back in the 60's, at
the time when MIT's Project MAC was inventing timesharing operating
systems (Unix's granddaddy CTSS, and daddy Multics) on hardware
that was physically most impressive (the IBM 7094) and expensive
(ca. $3,000,000 1960s dollars), though the idea that artificial intelligence
might be created on hardware like that (or like that depicted in
1969's _Colossus: The Forbin Project_) now seems laughable. But
what the Singularitarians are reluctant to admit -- and what those
Project MACers would have been appalled to find out -- is
that today's **vastly** more capacious hardware, which is cheap
enough to be at my disposal in my own living room (and the computer
at which I type this is hardly state-of-the-art -- I've got
a 64-bit Windows 7 laptop with six times as much memory sitting upstairs
on my bed) is **just** as far away from any realizable plan to
host a HAL-like "AI" on it. Probably because, at bottom, the analogy
between digital computers and human (or any other kind of biological)
brains is flawed.